Of barnacles and rivets

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Every time I hear the President ask, “Mr. Secretary, what is the next item of business?” I have a mini-panic attack before realizing I no longer need to know what the matter before the House is. That’s the difference between a secretary and a guest.

I attended my first General Convention in 1976 as a guest, so I’ve come full circle in thirty-nine years.

I am grateful to this House for having elected me three times to serve as secretary. I am also grateful to the House of Bishops for their concurrence, which made me the secretary of the General Convention. Being on the platform while the House was in session at General Convention was the highlight of my last years of active ministry; it was a great privilege. Thank you.

One of the disadvantages of being secretary, however, was the inability to advise the House when I thought it was voting in error. Relieved of office, I can now tell you how disheartened I was when at two successive meetings, the House voted to delegate to the several Standing Committees the last vestige of its historic duty to consent to the consecration of bishops. Since our earliest days as a self-governing church, the House of Deputies considered consenting to the consecration of at least some bishops.

Over the years, the House delegated that duty to the Standing Committees in the interest of efficiency. The last vestige of that duty was consenting (or withholding consent) to the consecration of bishops elected 120 to 30 days before the meeting of General Convention.

Sometimes debate on consent was time-consuming; sometimes it was contentious. But it was, above all else, transparent. It was plain to the House, to the church at large and, thanks to the news media, to the outside world which were the persons and forces arrayed in favor of granting consent and which opposed. I have taken part in the debate on consent both in this House and in my diocese’s Standing Committee. The information provided to this House’s Legislative Committee on the Consecration of Bishops was always complete; such was almost never true of what we received in the diocese.

The legislative committee ensured that the process functioned fairly and openly. I think consideration of consent by the House of Deputies was a benefit to the church and the church is not better off without it. This example serves to illustrate a point.

I have heard the Episcopal Church likened to the White Star steamer Titanic:  something about positioning furniture or the like. Let me build on the simile, but below deck.

Both barnacles and rivets affect the hydrodynamics of a vessel. Barnacles are crustaceans that latch onto a ship’s hull. When the organism dies, it leaves behind its calcified housing. Rivets are steel bolts that hold together the plates forming the ship’s hull. When the organism dies, it leaves behind its calcified housing.

Rivets are steel bolts that hold together the plates forming the ship’s hull, keeping it watertight. Both barnacles and rivets weigh down a ship. Both create friction and make propulsion of the ship less efficient. Both retard the ship’s speed.

Remove the barnacles, and the ship rises in the water. It moves more freely through the water. Its speed increases. Remove the rivets and, well, that’s what the iceberg did to Titanic, so we all know what that does.

This is my advice to you this convention: scrape barnacles to your hearts’ content, but leave the rivets in place.

The Reverend Canon Dr. Gregory S. Straub served as executive officer and secretary of the General Convention from 2005-2012. He gave this speech to the House of Deputies on June 29.